Losing Leejay, Finding Strength
Updated: May 17
Since our inception, Northland Wealth has focused not only on the financial side of wealth, but also on the people that create the wealth of a family. We understand a family’s members are the true and irreplaceable elements of family wealth.
Last year we attended the Canadian Association of Family Enterprises’ (CAFE) Symposium in Vancouver, British Columbia, where we met a family who lost one of its greatest sources of wealth seven years ago, their eighteen-year-old son. While many families suffer the unimaginable loss of a child, the Levene family’s strength allowed it to not only overcome the grief of this tragedy, but also brought the family closer together and empowered them to help others in need.
Leejay Levene was a wonderful young man who was ready to commence studying architecture at the University of Toronto. The summer before school started, Leejay had a fatal reaction to anesthesia during a routine wisdom teeth extraction at his oral surgeon’s office.
Leejay enjoyed sports, music, reading and writing, along with volunteering at the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society, where he adopted his darling cat Lola. He shared a passion for the great outdoors with his brothers Casey and Eli. The brothers were the third generation of the Levene family to attend Camp Arowhon, as their father and grandfather had before them.
Leejay’s mother Shirley was a great collector of the artwork of her three boys. It was all carefully stored, whether it was artwork completed at preschool, covers for science projects, or independent pieces created outside of school. The loss of Leejay was almost unbearable to the Levene family. As part of the healing process, Leejay’s artwork was photographed and reproduced as framed prints that were donated for auction at fundraising events across Canada.
The true beginning of this art project, however, was when the family partnered with Grand River Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit in Kitchener, Ontario. Three thousand calendars were printed for 2008, each month depicting a piece of art created by Leejay. The calendars were sold for $10.00 each. The fundraising enabled the hospital to purchase a blood fluid warmer for its ICU. This expensive piece of new equipment has since saved many lives.
The following year, the Levene family partnered with the Kitchener-Waterloo Humane Society for the calendar project. In the years to follow, they partnered with Habitat for Humanity, the Kitchener-Waterloo Art Gallery, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, the Grand River Hospital for the second time to replace their desperately needed pain pumps, THEMUSEUM in downtown Kitchener, Meals on Wheels, and is soon to print the Kitchener Public Library calendar for 2016. There is now a waiting list for future partners until 2021. The calendars improve each year and contain personal quotes alongside Leejay’s artwork, contributed by notable individuals including Jim Davis (creator of the Garfield comics), Laureen Harper, Rick Mercer, Governor General David Johnston, Heather Hiscox, Dr. Marla Shapiro, and Mark Cullen.
Creating the calendars is a true labour of love and remembrance, each taking about a year to curate. All of these efforts keep Leejay’s memory alive while also benefiting others by partnering with good causes.
Please visit www.leejaylevene.com to learn more about Leejay and the project, or if you wish to have artwork donated to an upcoming charitable fundraiser.